New soft, flexible boards intrigue surfers

Brenton Woo’s two passions have come together to help him create a surfboard that could change the sport altogether.

The 38-year-old San Diego native, explained that he spent the first half of his life searching for waves. “I went to Australia and Indonesia, to Hawaii and Costa Rica,” Woo said. The second half, he spent sliding down mountain tops. “I lived in the mountains, worked in resorts, snowboarded a hundred days a year.”

Since 2007, Woo has been trying to put together the best of surfing and snowboarding to make surfing easier, but it wasn’t until last year that he came up with the idea of building a foam surfboard over a snowboard. “I made a snowboard float,” Woo laughed.

He pointed out that there is a trade-off with traditional surfboards between performance and maneuverability. “Flat boards are fast and rocker boards turn better, but my question is, why can’t your board be both?” Woo said.

He used his talents to create a prototype, and eventually a brand to commercialize it, and Moda was born.

“Surfboards and snowboards actually work in identical ways, given the differences between water and snow, but fundamentally, the principals are the same,” Woo said. However, surfboards are fixed, and snowboards flex. Woo wanted to build snowboard flexibility into surfboard construction. “Flex had to be the answer. But it took us many tries to find out what kind of flex,” Woo said.

He found that the best way to make a surfboard flex is to use soft materials. He experimented with hybrids between a surfboard, a snowboard, and a body board. “We made our boards flex for performance, but then discovered flex made our boards more user-friendly,” he said.

The result is a foam body board sealed over a wooden snowboard core that became a lot more wonderful than Woo initially planned.

“(We encountered) all these serendipitous discoveries we didn’t plan for … Now we have all the benefits of soft construction. We have the safety, the durability and the low cost of soft construction, but with the performance advantages of flex,” he said.

For instance, the surfer doesn’t have to pump for speed, and to turn the board “you just direct it to the desired direction and trust it will take you there,” he said.

“You won’t know until you try it, that’s why we are trying to put it under people’s feet,” he said, inviting this reporter to try one out at La Jolla Shores on May 26. After our interview, I took the 6-foot prototype into the water.

It was a fun, user-friendly experience. The conditions were not ideal, and I’m a novice surfer, yet I realized the advantages of a soft, flexible board under me.

It was rough to go past the constant break of Shores’ waves with a highly floatable board —and one that was slightly too big for me. I found I couldn’t duck under the waves that broke right on my face. But once I passed the white wash, my experience vastly improved. Paddling around was fun and easy. Even lying on the board, I could sense its high maneuverability.

It felt like a hybrid between surfing and boogie boarding, with the best of both worlds. It was highly enjoyable, easy and not scary, like a body board. And just when you start thinking ‘I wish I could stand on this thing,’ you pull yourself onto it and ride with the wave for as long as it lets you.

Surf Diva Surf School in La Jolla Shores was the first company to collaborate with Woo. “Who better to test Moda boards than their coaches?” he said. To get the opinion of more experienced surfers, I contacted Surf Diva and spoke to Izzy Tihanyi about the Moda boards.

“The instructors said the board has a really different feel to it; it’s a whole new way of experiencing the wave. It feels more like you are snowboarding on the wave, and the board fits into the curvature of the wave, it’s actually flowing with the curvature of the wave. I see a lot of potential with this new technology for the man-made wave or wave parks. As a surf school, we really like the fact that these are soft boards because they ensure safety,” Tihanyi said.

However, this new technology is not yet adapted for newbies, Woo explained. “For someone from, like Kansas, who has never seen the ocean or has never tried to surf, this might not be the best way, because all they want to do is stand up. When the kids can paddle themselves, can already catch a wave themselves, then that’s when they’re going to find Moda a lot easier,” he said.

Moda boards are $350 and can be ordered from modasurfboards.com

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